SF DA Jenkins hires out staff, tours Castro neighborhood

  • by Eric Burkett, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday July 20, 2022
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San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins, center, chats with Joseph Estrada, left, of the Castro Village Wine Co. during her tour of the Castro district, which was led by District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, right. Photo: Rick Gerharter
San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins, center, chats with Joseph Estrada, left, of the Castro Village Wine Co. during her tour of the Castro district, which was led by District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, right. Photo: Rick Gerharter

San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins announced two new LGBTQ appointees to her growing management team and conducted a get-acquainted walking tour of Castro businesses with gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman Tuesday.

Jenkins was appointed to the office July 8 by Mayor London Breed after the recall of former DA Chesa Boudin. She has named Susan Belinda Christian, a lesbian, as managing attorney of collaborative courts, and Julius DeGuia, a gay man, as chief of criminal division vertical courts. Both bring extensive experience in the district attorney's office to Jenkins' administration, having initially been hired by former DA Kamala Harris, now vice president of the United States.

The moves come five days after Jenkins fired about 15 people, including bi former prosecutor Arcelia Hurtado, as the Bay Area Reporter first reported online July 15.

Christian, a former co-chair of the Alice B. Toklas LGBTQ Democratic Club, also served under Boudin, as co-chair of his Community Health Advisory Committee. Her work has long centered on behavioral health and its intersection with the law.

From 2012 to 2019 she worked in the Behavioral Health Court, a "multidisciplinary court providing treatment and rehabilitation for people who criminal justice involvement is tied to behavioral health disorders," according to her biography on SFgov.org, and has also served on the city's Human Rights Commission, serving four terms as commission chair. Christian helped create and implement a pilot program for implicit bias training for city employees in cooperation with the late Mayor Ed Lee's office, and was appointed to the San Francisco Health Commission in 2020 by Breed.

Married, Christian has been with her partner for 25 years and describes herself as "a longtime, old lesbian."

"I mean, it feels like an honor to do this, to be able to do this work," she said, "but I feel good as a woman, as a lesbian person, to be able to make sure that our neighbors and our people and our loved ones, that if something is committed against them, that it's appropriately dealt with. And that there is an understanding that it's not just a crime against that person. It's a crime against the whole of the community..."

DeGuia, "a proud, gay Filipino immigrant" and a career prosecutor for 25 years, served in the San Diego District Attorney's office for eight years before making the trek north to San Francisco to work for Harris in 2006. As chief of Criminal Division Vertical Units for Jenkins, he will manage attorneys overseeing domestic violence, child abuse, and similar cases, which are handled by the same attorneys from beginning to end, following the initial referral through the final disposition. He's been managing various units in the DA's office for some time, including juvenile, special prosecutions, sexual assault, and general felonies units.

"And so I presume that the DA wants someone at the table who's run these various units," DeGuia said at Spikes Coffee and Teas on 19th Street in the Castro where, along with Jenkins and Christian, he sat for an interview with the B.A.R. "And who knows the administration side of a big part of the office, right?" he asked, looking toward the district attorney.

"Yeah, so one thing I know about this man sitting here is how ethical of a prosecutor, how easy it is to go to him," replied Jenkins, sitting to his right, who was hired in 2014 by former DA George Gascón as a prosecutor in the Homicide Unit. She praised DeGuia's counsel, saying that as a younger lawyer, she had often gone to him for advice on cases.

"But he is somebody who, I know regardless of how hard the decision is, will tell you the truth about what he believes is ethical and is right," Jenkins said. "And that's what I want."

Castro tour

Before sitting down at Spikes, Jenkins was guided through the Castro by Mandelman, who introduced her to several Castro merchants. As she entered each business — a package and shipping store, a seafood restaurant, a dispensary, and a variety store, among others - she was greeted with enthusiasm by small business owners who expressed their frustration with the high levels of petty crime, vandalism, and homeless encampments in the predominantly LGBTQ neighborhood.

Along for the tour was Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District Executive Director Andrea Aiello, a lesbian. Asked if she had any hopes or expectations from Jenkins' visit, she replied, "Not to forget about the Castro," letting out a short laugh. "Just not to forget about us."

Indeed, merchants expressed the same idea even if they didn't use the same words.

Savio D'Souza, owner of The UPS Store on Market Street, was clearly delighted to have Jenkins come by but, initially, demurred when asked by Mandelman about the issues his store had endured. He didn't want to burden Jenkins with complaints but, when pressed, he mentioned a broken window.

"Just once," he said, but with a little more questioning, he mentioned other issues: garbage, tents, and feces. He apologized to Jenkins for that latter one.

"We're gonna get back on track," Jenkins promised him.

The DA and her entourage then visited cannabis dispensary Eureka Sky, where Aiello praised shop owner Desmond Morgan for his efforts to keep Jane Warner Plaza, adjacent to his shop, "safe and fun."

After talking about the troubles he'd had with some of the unhoused individuals and people with mental health issues who congregate in the public parklet in front of his store, Aiello and Jenkins encouraged him to continue calling in reports about problems he might be having.

"If there are repeat offenders you're aware of, contact my office," said Jenkins. As they left his shop, Morgan told her, "I'm very hopeful now that we have you in office."

Jenkins' group continued their tour, stopping by Castro Coffee Co. and then the Castro Theatre. There, program manager Margaret Casey shared her accounts of not one but two break-ins at the movie palace, both times allegedly by the same men, and the petty vandalism to which the building is subjected, such as the time someone threw cornflakes at a poster for a movie by Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini.

At Cliff's Variety, the neighborhood's iconic variety store, straight ally and store manager Terry Asten Bennett told Jenkins she wanted to see a notification system that could help victims like herself — Cliff's has been broken into repeatedly — keep abreast of developments in their court cases. There has to be a way for victims not to fall through the cracks, Bennett said.

"It will get better," said Jenkins. "It will get better."

Fate of commissions unclear

In her interview with the B.A.R., Jenkins also discussed two commissions established by Boudin, saying that she supported the work of the Innocence Commission, which was set up to examine cases for possible wrongful convictions, and is committed to seeing the group continue its work.

"Unfortunately, I think a lot of assumptions have been made. At no point have I ever indicated that I plan to discontinue that work," Jenkins said. "I'm firmly committed to exonerating the wrongfully convicted. That is something that is still an ever-present problem in our society."

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution calling on Jenkins to preserve the independent body. A news release from District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston, sponsor of the resolution, noted that in April, the Innocence Commission helped exonerate Joaquin Ciria, who was imprisoned for over 30 years for a murder he did not commit.

As for the Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission, its fate is less clear. Boudin two summers ago had joined the top prosecutors in Philadelphia and Boston, along with two civil rights advocates, to announce the formation of truth, justice, and reconciliation commissions, or TJRCs, in each of the cities — during the nationwide protests following the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota — to review and officially acknowledge long-standing systemic racial inequities in the criminal justice system.

Two years later, however, it is believed that the San Francisco commission has yet to start any work. Hurtado, the fired assistant district attorney, had been involved with the truth panel. A local nonprofit, the W. Haywood Burns Institute, had also been involved with the commission and was supposed to head up the efforts, as the B.A.R. previously reported. The B.A.R. reached out to James Bell, founding president of the Burns Institute last week. An automatic reply from Bell stated that the institute "is closed for the remainder of the year."

Jenkins told the B.A.R. that the TJRC "hasn't risen to the top of the list just yet and I don't want to give an answer that is not based on my research and my knowledge about ... if there's anything we can be doing differently or better."

For now, Jenkins said, her primary focus "is making sure we have a management team in place that has prosecutorial experience — and vast prosecutory experience — and that represents the balance that I want to have in our office ... the responsible reform side as well as accountability, and that's my focus right now."

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